The Titan Talk blog gives the faculty and staff at St. Timothy's School a chance to post relevant information to our community. Feel free to leave comments or questions for our bloggers!
We are always looking for ways to capture the esscence of what we do here at St. Timothy's School. Bruce Ham, parent of 3 STS alumnae, recently shared his story at our Founders' Day 60th Anniversary Celebration. Here is his experience in his own words:
When I was a kid, there was no such thing as a helicopter parent.
For most of my friends, day 1 of school meant walking to the bus stop alone or with whoever else happened to be traveling in that direction.
Shoving through the group of high schoolers who shared the same vehicle, some of them smoking... cigarettes, some smoking but not cigarettes and figuring out how to get yourself into the school and to your classroom without dying.
My brother did it. My neighbors did it. But…
I was a whimp.
Therefore, on my first day of first grade, my mom made an exception and drove me to Walker Spivey Elementary School in Fayetteville, NC, where I grew up.
I DID NOT want to go, and I had made that VERY clear to mother.
Thus her willingness to escort me – just this one time.
When we got to Mrs. Hawk’s class, I took hold of my mother’s left leg and held on as if I was on an upside down roller coaster and her limb was the lap bar.
Mrs. Hawk pried me off as the other students watched with great interest and my mother hustled away.
Mrs. Hawk got me situated into a seat and when she turned her back, I quickly got my butt out of the chair, ran out the back door, and bolted toward the front of the school where my mother had parked. Sort of slow motion.
As I made my way around the side of the school, I saw my mom in a glass hallway having a conversation with the school principal and at that point, I knew I’d beat her back to the car.
When she finally arrived, she was surprised to find me in the front seat.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I’m not going,” I responded.
She grabbed a wooden paddle from the back seat of the car – why my mother had a paddle in the car, I’m not quite sure.
She put it in the side pocket of her purse with the handle hanging out so that I could see it.
And she said, “Oh yes you are.”
Her nonverbals told me that she was threatening to beat the starch out of me if I didn’t comply.
Her nonverbals were also telling me she wasn’t beyond beating me right out in front of the school for anyone who happened to be driving or walking by to see.
She sat behind me in class for a few minutes until she could see I was mesmerized by the teacher’s words.
At which time she slipped out without me noticing. I’m guessing she booked her behind back to the car and caught some rubber as she pulled away.
I continued to pull this sort of insecure behavior until I finally found myself in college unable to get back home to my mother.
I was a good kid, but just didn’t have the confidence to push myself to do anything beyond my comfort zone – a zone that was about the size of a kernal of corn.
Perhaps that original insecurity is genetic.
My oldest daughter, Bailey, who is here with me tonight, was unfortunately cut out of similar cloth as me.
She had the grip of death on her mother every morning at drop off for the first year of her elementary school career here at St. Timothy’s.
My middle daughter, Lucy, was not quite as bad, but she wasn’t leaping out of the car with joy on her first day of school either.
Annie T. my third child was more a bit more compliant, but sucked her thumb, her security, fairly regularly through about third grade.
And yet, by the time St. Timothy’s School finished with these three tentative children, we had: one head cheerleader for the Titan basketball team, a soloist at 8thgrade graduation, and the President of the student body.
My oldest just returned last week after sailing around New Zealand for the semester.
My middle daughter just returned from Ethiopia last week after a week participating in mission work and my youngest, the thumb sucker, just returned from Outward Bound.
Sort of hard for me to believe.
I can’t boil it down to any one specific thing that this school does to build our kids.
Of course, the academics are strong and the teachers are incredible.
The options for extracurricular activities are immense and the small classroom size makes for more targeted attention, but I’d say it is something intangible that makes this place so special.
I don’t know what makes up the secret sauce here, but I can give you several examples that support my claim.
Many of you know that my wife was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2009 and died in February of 2010.
At the time, my daughters were ages 7, 9 and 12.
All were students at St. Timothy’s.
It was, to say the least, a very, very difficult time for our family.
One day in November of 2009, Annie T., my youngest, came home from school and said, “Dad, look at my new tennis shoes!”
I looked down at her feet and asked where they came from.
She said, “Mrs. Sanders.”
Annie T. was in first grade that year, and Mrs. Sanders was her Teacher’s Assistant.
I asked, “Why did Mrs. Sanders buy you new shoes?”
Annie T. said, “Well, the bottom has been coming off my shoes for a while now, and it fell off today when I was on the playground. I went and showed it to Mrs. Sanders, and she said not to worry about it, that she would fix it. And then, after lunch, she gave me these new shoes! They are the exact right size and look just like my old ones except the bottom is still there.”
I had another question for Annie T. “Honey, why didn’t you tell me your shoe was breaking?”
And she said, “I did Dad. You just didn’t hear me.”
You see, this school looks beyond scholastics.
They look beyond herding kids through to the next class – or clumping them all in the same category.
They look at individual situations, individual needs, and they work to meet children, and families, where they are.
For us that day, it was a pair of tennis shoes because dad was overwhelmed.
For others it may be remediation in a specific subject, or giving a kid a chance to lead, or talking through a problem a student is having with another kid.
There is a very special spirit in this place.
The first Christmas after Lisa died, I got a call from a friend who offered to help me pick out Christmas presents for the kids’ teachers.
I didn’t know that we gave Christmas presents to teachers.
Because I so wanted to be self-sufficient, I declined the offer and instead took the question to the family at the dinner table that night.
My brother-in-law, Hayes – a twenty-something year old, was living with us at the time.
“You guys, apparently a lot of the parents take Christmas presents to the teachers at school,” I explained. “What do you think we should do?”
I was too cheap to buy gift cards, they had 17 teachers in all, so we discussed several other options, when someone on Team Ham suggested we take them doughnuts!
We then concocted a plan to write a song, have Uncle Hayes go with us to play his guitar, to carol throughout the halls to each teacher they had and give out doughnuts and hot chocolate.
I remember the song well:Dashing through the halls
In a Lands End uniform
Each morning you greet us
With smiles so big and warm
We thank you for the things
You teach us every day
We know that grades are coming soon
We hope we get straight A’s
Oh Thank you ma’am
Thank you ma’am
Thank you Mrs. Jones
Thanks for all you do for us
We thank you Mrs. Jones
You can’t do that at just any school.
Imagine my brother-in-law and me showing up at [a large public middle school] playing a guitar with kids in tow belting out a homemade Christmas Carol.
It just wouldn’t work.
It did at St. Timothy’s because this is a safe place.
As I walked through the halls of school that day with the teachers being so supportive and the other students joking and laughing with us I remember thinking for the first time, “They don’t feel sorry for us. They think we’re a cool family.”
It was a milestone for me, and I think for my girls.
There is a very special spirit at this place.
You know your child has matured when they come home and insist that you take her to school early so that she can sticky note her history teacher’s car.
Yes – Annie T. covered Mr. Scheer’s car with sticky notes one morning… tons and tons of sticky notes. And her sisters and I helped.
That may not seem like a mature thing to do, but at St. Timothy’s, Annie T. found her voice with adults.
Not in an inappropriate way, but in a way that allowed her to feel comfortable asking questions and expressing her opinions to her teachers.
Each of my children had relationships with their teachers. The ability to interact with adults has translated, for all of my children, into confidence as they have gone out into the world that doesn’t always encourage young folks to express their opinions.
They don’t have to be asked to do so now.
They just confidently and maturely initiate conversations with adults and work to get their needs met.
There is a very special spirit in this place.
My kids entered this school as timid kindergarteners.
They left changed for the better.
Each had varying personalities and talents, and each was challenged.
Each left this school feeling as if she was capable of tackling the world.
When my family was at our lowest, the St. Timothy’s community surrounded us – wrapping us in safety.
St Timothy’s not only hired the teacher who bought Annie T. new tennis shoes but they also hired:
- The art teacher who still meets my sophomore in college for lunch when she returns to town.
- The literature teacher who confessed that Lucy was one of her all-time favorite kids.
- And the teacher who shared with my child who wet her pants one day at school that she sometimes did the same.
- And the one who brought To Kill A Mockingbird to life
- And the one who texted me with excitement when my kid cut 40 seconds off her mile in track.
St Timothy’s let my girls, and me for that matter, be us – supporting, giving space when appropriate, and holding kids’ and a father’s hands when needed.
I’m not sure, but I can’t imagine there are many schools that so readily allow kids to feel so safe, so comfortable that they can truly be themselves.
St. Timothy’s has done just that for my girls.
I am forever indebted.
I want to give back to this school because of what this school has done for me and for my girls. I want to give back to this school because I want future generations to have the same opportunities that my kids had.
I hope you feel that way too.
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